Five questions to…. Frank Dick

Second run of the “Five questions to…” column dedicated to IFAC 2019 speakers, while approching the event.

The same five questions will be asked to each speaker and it will be interesting to see how they will answer differently. So, stay tuned on IFAC website and its social accounts!


Five questions to… Frank Dick

As one of the country’s best and most consistently inspiring motivational speakers, Frank is riding high on the outstanding results from his position as High Performance Director at SASCOC ( South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) where he was the consultant to South Africa’s top coaches and athletes at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics.  RSA achieved 10 medals with 2 Gold, 6 Silver & 2 bronze. Four of those medals were won in athletics, Franks area of expertise.

He is also President of the European Athletics Coaches Association, Member of the IAAF Coaches Commission, as well as Chair (and architect) of the IAAF Academy.

From 1979 to 1994 he was the British Athletics Federation’s Director of Coaching, where he was widely acknowledged as and remains one of the outstanding sports coaches and coach mentors in the world.  In this position Frank led the British Athletics team into its “golden era” with Olympic gold medalists such as Daley Thompson, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Frank personally trained Daley Thompson and created training programmes for individuals such as Gerhard Berger, Katarina Witt, Boris Becker and Justin Rose.

At IFAC 2019 he will present on “Coaching Excellence” stream: come and listen to him in Loughborough!

1) Let’s go back to your early years: how did you become passionate about sport and what was your path to becoming an expert coach?

I was a skinny kid in a school where Rugby was the big sport. I got fed up being beaten up by the bigger kids and thought I’d try Athletics instead. Finished 3rd in school 800m 15yr age group and persuaded the guy who was 2nd to do Hurdles for the 15yr age School Team so that I could get into the Team! Beat the guy who’d been first in the School Champs and that was me sold forever on Athletics.

When I went to the Scottish Schools Training Course (after persuading the Sports Master I had to be on it!) I was mesmerised by the wisdom of the National Coach, Tony Chapman, and had the dream of getting there one day.

The major turning point in getting to that dream was gaining entry to Loughborough to study Physical Education. It gave me a pedagogics base on the one hand and on the other opportunity to learn about all Athletics events; teaching in the events; and coaching principles;  at the feet of two brilliant Coaches, Geoff Gowan and Bas Stamatakis.

After starting as a teacher I spent almost everything I earned to got to Championships and get into warm up areas to listen to and watch coaches in action. Then I sold almost everything I had to get to The University of Oregon in Eugene so that I could study coaching under Bill Bowerman.

That took me to my first Coaching position as Scottish National Coach. So I now could live that childhood dream! But now I knew that living one dream was only a step in all the dreams you can have in life. And to reach them the learning journey never ends. I also knew that there is no point in waiting for learning opportunities to happen. You must make them happen. I remain committed to that.

2) How do you develop your continuous learning?

First and above all other things, you must have a relentless curiosity. In particular that curiosity is about practical coaching and the coaching and learning process. Of course you need to know the Principles of Coaching and the Science of Coaching because these are the tools of your trade. You can be taught these things. But the Art of Coaching, you can only learn through life and coaching experience. The core of that art is decision making in taking the athlete from who they are to who they are capable of becoming.

It helps me in this to address the “4Rs”, in all situations, from meetings to training sessions to competitions.
Reason: Why are we doing this? What is the purpose?
Reality: Who is doing what and how to achieve the purpose?
Reflection: (Before) How will we learn from this experience?
(After) What have we learned?
Response: What will we do better or differently?
Act on that.

Develop and keep observation skills sharp. So Listen and be prepared to hear not only what your are listening for but what you are not listening for: Look and be prepared to see not only what you are looking for but what you are not looking for.

Constantly make a wide sweep in seeking learning experience and resource while developing the skill of connecting their meaning within the greater context of purpose as a coach and in continuing to grow as a person. So read widely. Study excellence and how it is achieved in other sports, the performing arts, professions and business. And seek out opportunities to experience the arts; to listen to great thinkers; to observe how others plan, make decisions, debrief.

There is always something mor to lean in there.

3) What technology do you use and how important is the use of technological equipment in your training?

I am not good with technology! I trust others to use it for me and to inform my decision making where only Technology can do so. So I am pretty clear on the huge value of Technology and the Performance Related Sciences to both performer and coach. I am also very clear that reliance on Technology cannot become an excuse for allowing observation skills to become rusty.

I said the core of our art as coaches is decision making. There are two poles of decision making. The first you can be taught and that is “evidence based” decision making. Technology is now a key contributor in this but as something that informs your decision; it does not make the decision for you. The second is “judgement based” decision making. This you can only learn, so you must make time for such learning with a coach or mentor.

You see, as a coach, you must have two sets of essential skills: technical skills and people skills. Technology belongs to the former and is a critical part of enhancing the effectiveness of applying our technical knowledge. However, no matter how sophisticated we are in the technical, we will not fulfil our coaching purpose if we are short on people skills, because coaching is all about people.

The fact is, of course, we cannot know everything even though committed to lifelong learning. So I strongly subscribe to the idea that there are three things you need to know:-

Know what you know.
Know what you don’t know
Know someone who does.

For me I know I need to know what Technology brings to the party but I do not know enough. Fortunately I know someone who does, which makes me more comfortable in making the decisions that need technology input.

4) Injuries are often part of the game but some are avoidable: how do you challenge your athletes but still keep them safe?
First by making sure that there is a foundation of coordination patterns and physicality that prepares athletes for establishing effective robust techniques and progressive training.
Next by establishing an essential tension between challenge and support specific to each athlete. This takes time and experience to establish. So I made some mistakes in this along the way. Fortunately I had good mentors and learned fast.
5) What do you do in your downtime? Do you ever relax and how?
I’m really not very good at making downtime! However I enjoy good music, particularly Mozart and Puccini and can occasionally bury myself in a book. For example I am fascinated by Da Vinci’s thinking and skills and consequently by those who influenced (Coached him) (Such as Andrea Del Verrochio). So have read three times the most recent Leonardo Da Vinci biography by Isaacson. Brilliant book concluding with what we learn from Da Vinci. Also “The courage to be disliked” by Koga and Kishimi; and The Culture Code by Coyle.
Also love long walks and working in the garden when I need to let my mind escape from phones and e mails.
Thanks to Frank Dick OBE!